WESTFIELD, NJ —  “An American and Paris” kicked off the New Jersey Festival Orchestra's 2016-17 season on Saturday with an homage to both America and Paris featuring two of George Gershwin’s best-loved orchestral works and a favorite by Parisian composer Claude Debussy.

The concert began with a rousing performance of Gershwin’s “Concerto in F,” played by internationally acclaimed pianist Jack Gibbons, who said he was first drawn to Gershwin’s music through this very concerto.

“I immediately fell in love with the work and, despite knowing very little about the composer, I realized very quickly that this was the work of a truly great mind,” said Gibbons, who has specialized in performing Gershwin for almost 30 years.

Sign Up for E-News

Gibbons didn’t use sheet music during the concerto. According to a close friend, when Gibbons is passionate about a score, he commits it to memory after five or six times.

Conductor and Music Director David Wroe led the NJFO orchestra in performing the second half of the program with “Fetes” from Parisian Claude Debussy’s orchestral work “Nocturnes,” inspired by James Whistler’s Impressionist paintings.

“It’s perfect that David Wroe chose to place Gershwin beside Debussy,” Gibbons said. “Debussy was one of Gershwin’s favorite composers, and his music had a profound influence on Gershwin, perhaps more than any other composer. It was enlightening to hear the two together in the same concert.”

Gibbons makes regular appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and London’s Queen Elizabeth and Royal Albert Halls.

Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” the romantic score which inspired the program’s theme, concluded the evening’s performance.

“Why don’t I dress as an American in Paris,” said Maestro Wroe as he slipped off his tie to the audience’s delight and began what was a moving and powerful presentation of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

The concert was presented through the generous support of The Stepanski Foundation

A second performance of “An American and Paris” will take place on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m. at Drew University in Madison. For tickets and information call 908-232-9400 or visit www.njfestivalorchestra.org